Exercises in Style (Excerpt)

September 19, 2017 | Author: Rishee Batra | Category: Rhetoric, Semantics, Linguistics, Semiotics, Human Communication
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A fascinating experiment of how style affects content....


Raymond Queneau Translated by Barbara Wright

Foreword by Umberto Eco With an essay by Italo Calvino Illustrations by Stefan Themerson


alma classics ltd

London House 243-253 Lower Mortlake Road Richmond Surrey TW9 2LL United Kingdom www.almaclassics.com First published in France as Exercices de style in 1947 First published in English by Gaberbocchus in 1958 This translation first published by John Calder (Publishers) Limited in 1979 This revised translation first published by Alma Classics Limited (formerly Oneworld Classics) in 2009 This new edition, with a Foreword by Umberto Eco and an essay by Italo Calvino, first published by Alma Classics Limited in 2013 © Éditions Gallimard, 1947 Translation © Barbara Wright, 1958, 1979, 2009 Foreword © Umberto Eco, 1983, 2013 published by arrangement with Giulio Einaudi Editore S.p.A., Turin ‘The Philosophy of Raymond Queneau’ © Italo Calvino, 1981 published by arrangement with the Wylie Agency, London ‘Queneau and Gaberbocchus Press’ © Nick Wadley, 2013 Translation of Foreword and ‘The Philosophy of Raymond Queneau’ © Stephen Parkin and Alessandro Gallenzi, 2013 Illustrations © Stefan Themerson reproduced by kind permission of the Themerson Archive, London Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY isbn: 978-1-84749-241-8

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be resold, lent, hired out or otherwise circulated without the express prior consent of the publisher.

Contents Foreword – Umberto Eco Exercises in Style



Notation 3 Double Entry 4 Litotes 5 Metaphorically 6 Retrograde 7 Surprises 8 Dream 9 Prognostication 10 Synchysis 11 The Rainbow 12 Word Game 13 Hesitation 14 Precision 15 The Subjective Side 16 Another Subjectivity 17 Narrative 18 Word-Building 19 Negativities 20 Animism 21 Anagrams 22 Distinguo 23 Homoeoteleuton 24 Official Letter 25 Blurb 27 Onomatopoeia 28 Logical Analysis 29 Insistence 31 Ignorance 33 Past 34 Present 35 Reported Speech 36 Passive 37

Couplets 38 Polyptotes 39 Aphaeresis 40 Apocope 41 Syncope 42 Speaking Personally 43 Exclamations 44 You Know 45 Noble 46 Cockney 48 Cross-Examination 49 Comedy 51 Asides 53 Parechesis 54 Spectral 55 Philosophic 57 Apostrophe 58 Awkward 59 Casual 61 Biased 63 Sonnet 65 Olfactory 66 Gustatory 67 Tactile 68 Visual 69 Auditory 70 Telegraphic 71 Ode 72 Permutations by Groups of 2, 3, 4 and 5 Letters 76 77 Permutations by Increasing Groups of Letters Permutations by Groups of 9, 10, 11 and 12 Letters 78 Permutations by Increasing Groups of Words 79 Hellenisms 80 Reactionary 81 Haikai 83 Free Verse 84 Feminine 85 Gallicisms 87

Prosthesis 88 Epenthesis 89 Paragoge 90 Parts of Speech 91 Metathesis 92 From the Front from Behind 93 Proper Names 94 Back Slang 95 Pig Latin 96 Antiphrasis 97 Dog Latin 98 Homophonic 99 Italianisms 100 For ze Freinetche 101 Spoonerisms 102 Botanical 103 Medical 104 Abusive 105 Gastronomical 106 Zoological 107 Futile 108 Modern Style 109 Probabilist 110 Portrait 112 Mathematical 113 Country 114 Interjections 116 Precious 117 Unexpected 119

The Philosophy of Raymond Queneau – Italo Calvino


Queneau and Gaberbocchus Press


– Nick Wadley

Foreword Reading through the contents pages of Exercises in Style, it would appear that Queneau wasn’t working to an overall plan. They’re not in alphabetical order, nor do they increase in complexity. An expert in rhetorical figures will see immediately that Queneau doesn’t employ the full range of these figures, or indeed only rhetorical figures. Figures of speech which are oddly missing include synecdoche, metonymy, oxymoron, zeugma – the list of illustrious absentees goes on. On the other hand, it’s true that if Queneau had wanted to follow the classic repertoires of such figures compiled by Pierre Fontanier, not to speak of the German rhetorician Heinrich Lausberg, the total number of exercises would have ended up as far more than a hundred. Nor did Queneau restrict the exercises only to rhetorical figures: in the contents we find parodies of literary genres (like the ode) and of ordinary acts of speech (the abusive, for example). However, on looking more closely, the expert in rhetoric will notice that figures of speech and thought and tropes are much more widely represented in the exercises than the titles alone would indicate. In the case of highly technical figures, such as synchysis or epenthesis, Queneau uses the scientific term with a kind of bravado, also because (one just has to read the exercises with “difficult” titles) readers realize immediately that they’re not expected to understand so much as admire the author’s linguistic virtuosity. You need to understand the rule behind the figure in order to admire it properly, but Queneau leaves it up to the reader to find


raymond queneau that out – the element of puzzling it out is probably part of the game he’s playing. Yet, quite apart from the fact that all the more readable exercises contain rhetorical figures of various types – and more than one per exercise – a reader comes to realize that certain exercises play on a specific rhetorical figure even when the title is generic and accessible. The first example of this is ‘Notation’ itself, which is a demonstration of sermo manifestus, in other words of plain and explicit language. ‘Double Entry’ is an exercise on synonyms and paraphrase – while ‘Retrograde’ exemplifies hysteron proteron, Surprises is a survey of exclamations and both ‘Hesitation’ and Awkward use the figure of dubitatio (since in dubitatio the speaker asks his audience for advice on how to organize his speech given the difficulty of the material). ‘Precision’, in addition to being a skilful example of redundancy, could also be defined in terms of hypotyposis – a detailed description of an object with the intention of rendering it visible to the listener/ reader – as could also the five exercises ‘Olfactory’, ‘Gustatory’, ‘Tactile’, ‘Visual’ and ‘Auditory’. The two exercises entitled ‘The Subjective Side’ and ‘Another Subjectivity’ are an example of sermocinatio (in which the speaker appears to quote another person, adopting his style of expression – this figure also applies to numerous other exercises). ‘Word-Building’ is an example of mots-valise or portmanteau words. ‘Negativities’ demonstrates the technique of correctio. ‘Insistence’ and ‘You Know’ use pleonasm. ‘Ignorance’ is an example of reticentia, and similitude lies at the basis of the group of exercises on the five senses just mentioned. ‘Telegraphic’ is a splendid example of brevitas. ‘Hellenisms’ provides a classic example of oratio emendata, and the figure of locus communis is brazenly on display in ‘Reactionary’. ‘Proper Names’ appears, on strict analysis, to be a bizarre and not entirely explicable case of Vossian antonomasia.


exercises in style Yet it is also the case that all this display of rhetorical expertise is not taken too seriously: Queneau frequently plays around by taking the figures literally (to use an unavoidable oxymoron) – that is to say, he applies the technique of a rule to the letter while disregarding its meaning, and turns this into a further element of the game. To illustrate this point: prosthesis, epenthesis and paragoge all consist in repositioning a letter or phoneme – the first to the front, the second to the middle, the third to the end of a word – but the examples given in the manuals of rhetoric for these figures make sense, so to speak: gnatus instead of natus, speciality instead of specialty, amongst instead of among. But in the exercises which exemplify these figures (though in strict classical terminology they are not figures so much as virtutes or vitia elocutionis, adornments or defects of speech), Queneau shifts letters and syllables around – fore and aft and in the middle – with gay abandon, pushing the figures to the point of absurdity. He does the same with apheresis, syncope and apocope, which, rationally handled, should produce examples like mittere for omittere, ma’am for madam, and legit for legitimate, but as with the additions of letters and phonemes, the subtractions pour forth in a torrent, the intention being not to construct a literary effect but to create noise, even pandemonium. The same occurs with polyptotes, which normally is the limited repetition of a word in different syntactic contexts, as in the expression “Rome seule pouvait Rome faire trembler” (“Only Rome could make Rome tremble”), but in Queneau’s exercise on the figure the term contribuable (“taxpayer” in the English translation) is repeated so often as to produce an effect of obsessive nonsense. Synchysis gets similar treatment. It is a syntactic figure in which anastrophe (“never a breeze up blew”) and hyperbaton (“some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall”) are combined to create a confusion in the sequence of words which make up the sentence. But Queneau applies the figure to an entire text (and not for the only time in the


raymond queneau book, since synchysis or mixtura verborum is necessarily employed in the exercise entitled ‘Permutations by Increasing Groups of Letters’). Many exercises involving variations on alliteration and paronomasia – such as ‘Homoeoteleuton’ (where the alliteration is on the final letter) and ‘Parechesis’ (where it’s on the first) are taken to the point of paroxysm. Queneau uses rhetorical figures to obtain comical effects, but at the same time he’s also poking fun at rhetoric itself. He can’t therefore have taken rhetoric, either as a science or a technique, too seriously, despite being deeply conversant with it: it is this which probably explains the nonchalance and casualness with which he puts the exercises together, heedless of system or classification and just following his own whim. At this point, readers might think they understand why Queneau, having opted to try out various rhetorical figures at random, in other exercises turns his back on rhetoric to look at literary parody and social convention or refer to different technical and scientific jargons. Yet rhetoric is not simply a matter of figures of speech, pertaining only to elocutio. It includes inventio and dispositio, memory, pronuntiatio, the various genres of oratory and of narratio, the different techniques of argumentation, the rules of compositio – and the standard manuals of rhetoric also cover poetics, with the whole range of literary genres and types. In short, reading the Exercises shows us that while Queneau doesn’t try out everything there is in the ars rhetorica, he tries out all sorts of things which are included in it. His book becomes an exercise on rhetoric itself, indeed a kind of demonstration that rhetoric is to be found everywhere. What the Exercises teach us above all is that there is no precise dividing line between figures of expression and figures of content. Take the exercise ‘Metathesis’. In the English version the “cord”


exercises in style (“srote de filecle” in the original) becomes “srot of strnig”, the result of an almost mechanical intervention on the phonic or written form of the word – but doesn’t the shift of letters suggest images, which as such already belong to content? Naturally there are devices – metathesis is one – which start by manipulating the expression to set off reverberations at the level of content (in the same way a good spoonerism should give rise to embarrassing double entendres), while there are exercises which start with content (with metaphorical substitution for example) to produce changes (in this case of bold lexical substitution) at the level of expression. But seen in a broad semiotic context, tout se tient. If we say, “There are many bullfighters in pain,” people may laugh. The effect has been obtained by a simple metaplasm, the omission of an S in the word Spain. But why is it less funny to say “there are many gullfighters in Spain”, which employs another metaplasm? Because, semantically speaking, “bullfighters” have more to do with Spain than “gulls”. The concept arises of a semantic encyclopedia which has to supply for every word in some ideal dictionary a series of information which is not merely grammatical. The difference between a mechanical and a significant slip of the tongue lies precisely in these connections (or in these incongruities). Thus not even the merely metaplastic exercises can be entirely non-semantic. Not even those which seem deliberately to be without meaning, such as all those which shift letters around within words, can fail to affect our sense of the content. Taken one by one and out of context, they wouldn’t make us laugh: they would appear to be the work of some unhinged typesetter whose boss has gone on holiday. They become comic in the context of Queneau’s project, the metalinguistic challenge which underlies the Exercises as a whole. Queneau posed himself this question: is it possible to treat a basic text by varying it in every way imaginable, so long as each


raymond queneau variation adheres to a specific rule? It is this which makes even the variations which are empty of meaning appear meaningful, at least at a metalinguistic level. The Exercises play both with intertextuality (they are parodies of other types of discourse) and with con-textuality. If the volume consisted only of ten exercises instead of ninety-nine, it would be less entertaining (and similarly, although perhaps a bit tiresome, it would be even more entertaining if it were made up of ninety-nine thousand variations). The comic effect is global: it is created by accumulatio, the dominating rhetorical figure which each exercise in turn serves to exemplify. As one laughs over a mechanical switching-around of letters in a word, one is laughing at the same time at the challenge the author is pursuing, at the mechanisms he needs to put into practice in order to achieve his aim, and at the nature both of a particular language and of the capacity for language in general. I read somewhere that the idea of the Exercises came to Queneau when he was listening to symphonic variations (I also wonder if he had in mind Cyrano’s variations on his nose in Rostand’s play). As Roman Jakobson has shown, a musical variation is a syntactic phenomenon which – within the context of its companion text – creates expectations and predictions, memories and deferments – and precisely by so doing produces an effect of meaning. Whatever the case, Queneau has chosen not only to vary the musical theme grammatically, but also the way we listen. We can listen to a musical piece while blocking our ears rhythmically in such a way that the sounds are filtered and become a sort of breathing, an ordered noise, a cacophony controlled by a rule. But to get the most out of this experiment we need to know that the symphony is still going on in its uninterrupted wholeness, and it works even better if we’ve already listened to it before somewhere else. Therefore each exercise takes on meaning only in the context of the others – “meaning” – and therefore content – being the


exercises in style operative word. However amusing the metaplastic wordplay and its mechanical shifts of letters and phonemes can be, it is not merely that which is involved. Yet the Exercises also show us that it is very hard to distinguish between the comedy of language and the comedy of situation. The distinction appears to be clear. If the Minister for Education, in the middle of a formal dinner, has a choking fit while saying “Skol”, we have a comic situation, and the amusing story can be told in different languages. But if an English person wants to express an opinion on some educational reform which has gone wrong and says that the Minister for Education “choked on the word skol”, we have a comedy of language – which is normally untranslatable. But it isn’t a question of a division between the world of facts on the one hand and the world of signs on the other. For a start, in order for us to find the spectacle of a minister choking during a toast comic, we need to belong to a particular culture in which there is a hidden desire to see people in power humiliated. It’s not in the slightest bit funny – at least in our culture – if we’re told about a a paraplegic choking on a glass of beer. The situation (as pure fact) becomes comic only to the extent that the events and the people involved in them are imbued with symbolic significance. A comic situation may not be linguistic, but it is always semiotic. In the same way, if an English person laughs on being told the Minister of Education has choked on the word skol, it wouldn’t be in the least comic if we said that the same happened to the Minister for Foreign Trade. As with the “bullfighters”, our reaction depends on an encyclopedic representation of what public education involves (and what the minister responsible for it should be like). This type of information has been described as “knowledge of the world”; without wishing to enter on the thorny question of how we define such a concept in semiotic terms, it should be noted that all comedy of language is tied to extra-linguistic contexts.


raymond queneau Yet it is also true that those exercises which could be characterized as metalogical, linked to psychological or social models, are dependent on the language they use as a medium. They are possible in French because Queneau’s French reflects a civilization and refers both to a specific social context (France, Paris) and a particular time. To translate these exercises literally would mean incurring the fate of those translations of American thrillers which make improbable and pseudo-literal attempts to transpose situations, jargons, professions, turns of speech which are typical of a different world. A word such as “downtown” for example, cannot accurately be translated into any other language. It is not always the centre of a city (for example it isn’t in New York), it is not necessarily the historic part, nor is it in all cities the part along the river: sometimes it’s the maze of narrow streets where local criminals operate, sometimes the area dominated by skyscrapers and the banks. In order to understand the meaning of “downtown”, you would need to know the history of each individual American city. However, Queneau’s Exercises can, at least to a certain degree, be translated, because none of them are purely linguistic and they are all bound up with intertextuality and historical circumstance – nor can any be entirely detached from the particular language – the spirit of French – in which they were originally written. With both aspects, it is not so much a question of translating as one of recreating in another language within a different social and historical and intertextual context, which is the approach both Barbara Wright and I (in my Italian translation) have followed. – Umberto Eco


Exercises in Style


On the S bus, in the rush hour. A chap of about twentysix, soft hat with a cord instead of a ribbon, neck too long, as if someone’s been tugging at it. People getting off. The chap in question gets annoyed with one of the men standing next to him. He accuses him of jostling him every time anyone goes past. A snivelling tone which is meant to be aggressive. When he sees a vacant seat he throws himself onto it. Two hours later, I come across him in the Cour de Rome, in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He’s with a friend who’s saying: “You ought to get an extra button put on your overcoat.” He shows him where (at the lapels) and why.




Towards the middle of the day and at midday I happened to be on and got onto the platform and the balcony at the back of an S-line and of a ContrescarpeChamperret bus and passenger-transport vehicle which was packed and to all intents and purposes full. I saw and noticed a young man and an old adolescent who was rather ridiculous and pretty grotesque: thin neck and skinny windpipe, string and cord round his hat and headgear. After a scrimmage and scuffle he says and states in a lachrymose and snivelling voice and tone that his neighbour and fellow traveller is deliberately trying and doing his utmost to push him and inconvenience him every time anyone gets off and makes an exit. This having been declared and having spoken he rushes and goes towards a vacant and a free place and seat. After two hours, and a hundred and twenty minutes later, I see him and come across him again in the Cour de Rome and in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He is with and in the company of a friend and pal who is advising and urging him to have a button and corozo disc added and sewn onto his overcoat and mantle.



A few of us were travelling together. A young man, who didn’t look very intelligent, spoke to the man next to him for a few moments, then he went and sat down. Two hours later I met him again; he was with a friend and was discussing clothing matters.



At the very heart of the day, tossed among the shoal of travelling sardines in a white-bellied beetle, a chicken with a long, featherless neck suddenly harangued one of their number, a peace-abiding one, and its parlance, moist with protest, was unleashed into the air. Then, attracted by an empty space, the fledgling made a dash towards it. In a bleak, urban desert, I saw it again that selfsame day, drinking the cup of humiliation over a mere button.



You ought to put another button on your overcoat, his friend told him. I came across him in the middle of the Cour de Rome, after having left him rushing avidly towards a seat. He had just protested against being pushed by another passenger who, he said, was jostling him every time anyone got off. This scraggy young man was wearing a ridiculous hat. This took place on the platform of an S bus which was full at noon that day.



How tightly packed in we were on that bus platform! And how stupid and ridiculous that young man looked! And what was he doing? Well, if he wasn’t actually trying to pick a quarrel with a chap who – so he claimed, the young fop! – kept on pushing him! And then he didn’t find anything better to do than to rush off and grab a seat which had become free! Instead of leaving it for a lady! Two hours later, guess whom I came across in front of the Saint-Lazare! The same fancy-pants! Being given some sartorial advice! By a friend! You’d never believe it!



I had the impression that everything was misty and pearly around me, with multiple and indistinct ap­ paritions, amongst whom however was one figure that stood out fairly clearly, which was that of a young man whose overly long neck in itself seemed to proclaim the character at once cowardly and quarrelsome of the individual. The ribbon of his hat had been replaced by a piece of plaited string. Later he was having an argument with a person whom I couldn’t see, and then, as if suddenly afraid, he threw himself into the shadow of a corridor. Another part of the dream showed him walking in bright sunshine in front of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He was with a companion who was saying: “You ought to have another button put on your overcoat.” Whereupon I woke up.


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